For the first time this season, there was a bit of a shift at the top of the College Football Playoff rankings.
The pecking order continues to sort itself out as we hurtle toward the end of the season. Multiple top contenders had big wins, but they weren't all treated the same, which has become a pattern over the past decade of this format. So let's dig into some takeaways from this week's rankings — which, as usual, were far kinder to the Southeastern Conference than other conferences.
No. 1 Georgia
Georgia has strung together one of the longest streaks atop the AP Poll, and now it's back on top of the CFP selection committee's rankings, too. The Bulldogs looked to be back to 100% as they completely dismantled Ole Miss in Athens, making the statement that they are absolutely still the team to beat until someone actually takes them down.
The jump from No. 2 to No. 1 is massive for a couple of reasons. Perhaps the biggest of them is seeding: It could be the difference between playing a Texas team that sneaks in and an Oregon squad that has been absolutely on fire for about a month now. The other is that it gives the Bulldogs a bit more leeway to potentially drop a game and still make a semifinal, although it's hard to project them doing so. Georgia is officially back where it belongs, and the committee has officially announced that the rest of the season will be a contest to see if anyone can change that.
No. 9 Missouri
Mizzou took a huge step up with a dominant win over Tennessee, potentially securing a New Year's Six spot for the Tigers. They're currently the third-highest-ranked SEC team on the committee's list, a distinction that has usually been good enough to reach one of the most prestigious non-semifinal bowls of the season.
The Tigers will not be making the playoff, as they have two losses already and will not participate in the SEC Championship Game. But after a decidedly mediocre 2022 in which they went 6-7, reaching or even winning the Cotton, Orange, Peach or Fiesta Bowl would be a massive triumph for Eliah Drinkwitz's squad. This Missouri team features one of the country's most dangerous offenses, and it would be a worthy participant in the New Year's weekend festivities.
No. 16 Iowa
It probably won't make a huge difference, but the Hawkeyes were the biggest risers in this week's poll by moving up six spots. They own a commanding lead in the Big Ten West; and if they win their last two regular season games against Illinois and Nebraska, they'll be pushing the top 10 heading into a conference title game clash with Michigan or Ohio State.
Will the Hawkeyes win that massive clash? Probably not. But if they do — or even put up a competitive effort — they'll be a great candidate for one of the best bowls of the year with double-digit wins and one of the country's best defenses. Unfortunately, the Rose Bowl is a semifinal this year, so they won't be headed there; but a trip to the Orange Bowl or Fiesta Bowl would be a great end to what has been a very tumultuous season for Iowa.
No. 2 Ohio State
When you win dominantly and move down, that's always going to be a tough pill to swallow, even if you only go down a spot. As noted, the difference between the top and second spot is enormous, and it's hard to imagine Ohio State going back above Georgia even if they do beat Michigan — unless, of course, the Bulldogs themselves lose.
It's hard to understand why the committee put Ohio State on top in the first place, but it's even harder to see what the Buckeyes may have done to change their minds. Of course, they still control their own destiny in the sense that winning out will guarantee them a spot. But now it might be less likely that they can get in with a loss to Michigan; and, of course, the seeding implications could be massive.
No. 3 Michigan
The criticisms of Michigan that led to it being ranked third to begin with — despite the fact that it sits in second or even first in every other major poll or power ranking in the country — stemmed from the Wolverines' weak schedule to this point. This week, they went on the road without their head coach and imposed their will on Penn State, which was a top 10 team at the time and only moved down to No. 12.
Michigan beat Rutgers, Michigan State, Indiana and Penn State by more than Ohio State did — and the numbers aren't close in most of those cases. The only common opponent against which the Buckeyes performed better is Purdue; and if not for a meaningless touchdown with 18 seconds left, the Wolverines would have edged out the Buckeyes in that comparison as well. Georgia re-proved that it is one of the best teams in the country with a big home win over a tough opponent, and it was rewarded with a bump over Ohio State. If the committee is willing to apply such logic, how exactly is Michigan still sitting in third?
No. 10 Louisville
Louisville is one of the lowest-ranked teams still clinging onto a relatively realistic path to the playoff, but the committee just made it a little bit harder for them to reach a semifinal. After Missouri moved up five spots, the Cardinals are officially the only one-loss team below a two-loss squad — showing how the committee perceives their quality compared with the rest of the field.
It's hard to jump those last six spots in just a couple of weeks, but crazier things have happened. A road win over Miami and a rivalry triumph over SEC squad Kentucky could go a long way toward swaying the committee, paired with some nice wins over Notre Dame and Duke. If Louisville really is able to beat Florida State and win the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 12-1 record, it still might need some help to get in, but it would certainly raise some eyebrows and be squarely within the field of candidates.
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